This content originally appeared on Mashable for a US audience and has been adapted for the UK audience.
Would you be chill if someone leaked your entire search history to the government? How about if your internet provider made it so that one episode of The Office took an hour to load? If you’ve had a crisis about anything like this, you’ve probably considered investing in a VPN.
We know you’ve probably seen absolutely loads of VPN reviews from experts across the board, but if you wanted a raw opinion — or thousands of them — from people with absolutely no filter, there’s only one place to go: Reddit.
You know it makes sense.
What is a VPN?
The bottom line is simple: People don’t want other people watching what they’re doing online, even if they’re not doing anything wrong.
A VPN (virtual private network) is an internet security subscription that basically allows you to make up your own internet rules. It acts as a bodyguard between you and your internet service provider (and hackers, and other third-party weirdos) by hollowing out a personal security tunnel through which you perform all of your internet activities. A VPN’s job is to plug the holes that could be making your data vulnerable to nefarious eyeballs, like creeps scouring public WiFi networks for personal information that could be used to steal your identity. VPNs are as wise of a precaution as antivirus software or a password manager (yes, this applies to Macs too).
Hackers love free WiFi for the same reason you do: Connecting to the internet requires no authentication. That network is littered with unsecured devices, many times belonging to working professionals with bank accounts and business credentials that have phishers frothing at the mouth. Often, the easiest thing for hackers to do is slide in between your device and the connection point. This Man-in-the-Middle situation is like eavesdropping, but on emails, credit card info, and work logins. Other hackers users public WiFi to unleash malware to all of the suckers using the network without protection.
Many people avoid the public WiFi risk by recruiting their phone’s hotspot. But on the flip side, data limits might be an issue — setting up a situation where both a laptop and phone need VPN protection. Many Reddit users suggest using something like EasyTether to share the VPN connection. Just download and enable a proxy app on your phone, configure it on your laptop, and you can enjoy a sort of reverse hotspot VPN-style.
Can you access streaming content with a VPN?
The convenience factor also plays a big role. VPNs also provide a way for people to get around internet roadblocks and censors. These can be location-based or around blocks to certain websites set by, say, your workplace.
All decent VPNs offer a wide selection of servers based in multiple geographic locations. Picking one of those essentially tricks your ISP into thinking your device is based there, maneuvering around geoblocks and opening the door to international content, like another country’s Netflix or Prime Video library.
What do Redditors think you should look for in a VPN?
The specs that Reddit users care about in a VPN are easy to tally when the same ones pop up in countless subreddits throughout the year. These are the ones that were mentioned the most:
Streaming dependability — Lots of people want a VPN solely to watch content from other countries, so a VPN’s ability to bypass geoblocks and get around a streaming site’s VPN blocks is crucial. The speed at which that content streams matters, too (a fast VPN should be able to upscale to HD without lag). Connection speed and location spoofing are dependent on the number of servers and where they’re located — more servers means less people hogging a single server’s capacity, and various locations means more streaming libraries from around the world. Free VPNs typically don’t have the funds to support a robust menu of servers.
For obvious reasons, most big streaming services aren’t happy about the idea of VPN usage and will probably mention it in their terms and conditions. If they happen to sniff out your VPN-ridden IP address, you’re not necessarily in trouble. The most likely repercussions would be the inability to access the streaming platform (even if it just worked the day before), but there have been instances of steaming services terminating subscriptions associated with spoofing.
Split tunnelling — VPNs that support split tunnelling let you route some of your traffic through the encrypted VPN tunnel while bouncing other traffic over the internet directly. One might choose to separate less demanding but high-security activities like web browsing from high-bandwidth but low-security activities like streaming or playing video games. Advantages include reduced traffic on corporate networks, better speeds and reduced latency for the chosen tasks, and more customised privacy. If you’re looking to tunnel to specific apps, look for an SSL VPN.
No DNS leaking — This is a good test of a VPN’s trustworthiness. Think of a DNS (Domain Name Service) as the internet’s phonebook: It’s the service that transfers host names for humans to understand (like Mashable.com) to IP addresses for computers to understand. A leaked DNS essentially blabs your browsing history to whoever’s watching on the other end — thus totally defeating the purpose of a VPN.
A kill switch — This cuts your connection to the internet if a secure connection to your VPN drops without notice. This is less likely on a high-quality VPN with a hefty roster of servers that can balance the traffic of millions of users, but far from impossible. By default, your device will switch back to your personal IP address or, worse, a public one. The speedy end-all action performed by a kill switch essentially ensures that you aren’t unknowingly operating on a weak IP address. Some kill switches operate in the form of a firewall.
App compatibility — Not all VPNs run equally smoothly on every device. Before you sign up, make sure that the VPN app doesn’t have major bugs on your operating system. For instance, some mobile VPN apps don’t play as well on iPhone as Android, or an app might keep getting killed depending on other apps sucking your phone’s battery.
Keep these points in mind when shopping around for a VPN.
Do you need to pay for VPNs?
Reddit users will let you know that comparing free VPNs to paid VPNs just doesn’t make sense. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, and you’ll almost definitely be skimping on some crucial features by opting out of paying. Proof isn’t always provided, but many Redditors are convinced that free VPNs don’t follow a true no-log policy or sell your data to third parties. “Free” is sometimes synonymous with “slow” due to fewer servers in fewer locations.
The general consensus seems to be to only use a free VPN to test the waters, then cough up the credit card info. Most times, this can be done through a trusted paid VPN that has a free tier to experiment with, or via a free trial, which many services offer. However, free VPNs can step up to the job for more temporary endeavors — like having access to your home country’s streaming services while going abroad for a semester or keeping up with a certain sport for a season. Because paid VPNs only really get affordable when a one or two-year subscription is met, it may not make sense to pay £10 per month for the few months that you need a VPN.
What is the best VPN according to the Reddit community?
There are a lot of VPN providers out there offering similar packages and sets of features, so it’s difficult to pick a favourite. We’ve tried to help you make an informed decision by picking the brains of well-informed Redditors.
We actually dug through Reddit threads of users discussing their experiences with VPNs, and lined up a selection of the best services based on those conversations. This list includes popular services like ExpressVPN(Opens in a new tab), CyberGhost VPN(Opens in a new tab), and NordVPN(Opens in a new tab).
These are the best VPNs according to the Reddit community in 2023.